This week at THE AVID LISTENER: Felicia Miyakawa (!) on DJs, Improvisation, and Notation

A number of years ago I published an article about turntablature, notation styles that had been developed in the DJ world. Two things spurred me to do that research: (1) a brief video included in the bonus materials of the documentary Scratch, in which DJ Rob Swift performs a scratching routine with notation scrolling underneath; and (2) seeing DJ Spooky perform a new piece called Devolution (by Anthony Paul DeRitis) with the East Bay Symphony in Oakland. During the research process for the article, I interviewed DeRitis by phone about his collaboration process with Spooky. Ultimately the bit about Spooky and Devolution never made it into the article, and I haven’t been able to revisit that material until now.

For this week’s installment of The Avid Listener, I offer you some thoughts about how DJs work with orchestras. I’m particularly interested in how musicians trained within a notated tradition work with a soloist who specializes in improvisation. Here’s an excerpt from my new essay:

“On March 19, 2004, I had the good fortune to attend the West Coast premiere of Devolution, a new orchestral work by composer Anthony Paul DeRitis. I was compelled to buy a ticket after reading a feature essay by Andrew Gilbert called ‘New Work Brings DJ into Orchestral Mix‘ that appeared in the San Jose Mercury News. The title was a play on words meant to draw attention to the renowned artist who would be featured in the concert. DJ Spooky (Paul D. Miller) was to join the Oakland East Bay Symphony in a new 32-minute concerto for DJ and orchestra, conducted by Michael Morgan. Spooky is known for his innovative ‘mixing,’ live blending of records and digital files to produce new sounds. Gilbert’s title hints not only at the unusual (for 2004) combination of DJ and orchestra, but also to the technique Spooky was expected to use during the performance…”

Read the full essay here. And as always, we invite you to visit often and stay for the conversation.

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